Back on the east coast for a moment…

Oh, humidity. I find that I really haven’t missed you at all.

I”m currently out in Catonsville, MD – staying with friends as I await the event known as Balticon. I’ve been a guest panelist at Balticon for the last couple of years, and it’s going to be awesome to see all the friends that I’ve missed since leaving the east coast.

A week from now, I’ll be back in Denver for a blip, before heading out to Northern California over the first weekend in June. The plan is to head out to Moab, Utah, then down to Zion National Park in Springdale, UT before kicking over to Tonopah, NV to check out an insidious and creepy clown motel at the behest of Greg Hussein Kinney, then down through Las Vegas (a drive I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do), then over to Cali and up to Sequoia National Park, CA. I’ll then bang over to the coastal highway, head up north and hit Big Sur before finally arriving out in Rutherford, CA.

An adventurer continues to be me! 🙂

Gorges and Caves and Pueblos, oh my…

In the Rio Grande Gorge

Headed out from Albuquerque early friday afternoon. The plan was to swing by to check out the spectacular view at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge – the fifth highest bridge in the United States, then head on to Taos Pueblo. Northbound rt 570 winds through Rio Grande Gorge State Park, following the course of the Rio itself. It is a trip well worth taking, at least once. Be aware, however, that shortly after you cross the bridge over the Rio and start heading up the dirt and gravel road that becomes rt 567 along the side of the gorge itself on the other side, there are fairly steep switchbacks going all the way up.

You’ll want to have a vehicle that won’t tweak over the hard driving. Shortly after hitting the top, the terrain stretches out into large plains and the road becomes asphalt again. There are several points along the drive up where you can pull over and get this exceptional view of the surrounding terrain. It’s a very shaky, bumpy ride, but again – very much well worth it.

Rio Grande Gorge, NM – view from the top

The view from the rest area near the bridge and from the bridge itself is simply spectacular. It’s a good place to venture out and test your fear of heights in the hopes of overcoming them, at least a little. I parked in the rest area and walked around a bit, first going out to the chain link fence near the edge of the gorge itself. I spoke briefly with a couple that wasn’t aware of the descending road down into the gorge itself, and I let them know that it was perhaps 15 to 20 minutes down the road, if they wanted to check it out – which I strenuously suggested they do. I then meandered off in the direction of the bridge itself. It’s little unnerving when trucks pass, as the bridge shudders beneath you. Of course, my hateful, paranoid imagination gleefully came up with graphic images of my body being accidentally pitched off the edge to be dashed out onto the rocks far below.

Ah, fear of heights – screw you. 🙂

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

I then headed off towards Taos Pueblo. The residents are very friendly, and the cost to get in isn’t prohibitively high. There is an additional charge to take pictures – and all pictures taken are to be used for personal consumption only, so I won’t be posting any online. The reservation itself is about 99,000 acres, but the sacred village itself only occupies a small portion of the land. It’s been said that Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. The reservation is at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and there are several places within the sacred village itself where tourists are not allowed – including the mountains themselves.
There are multiple shops in the main plaza itself where you can purchase art, pottery, jewelry, drums and other assorted local handmade items. A small stream, Red Willow Creek (Rio Pueblo de Taos), flows through the sacred village itself, providing clean drinking water for the residents. There are multiple signs along it in the village, warning people away from wading into it; it’s the only source of clean water for the village’s inhabitants. It’s a happy, burbling little water source, and there are benches that you can perch on, closing your eyes to listen to the sound of the rushing water.
The cemetery for the village is prominently featured, and the remains of the original San Geronimo Church lay at the edge of the cemetery walls. It is forbidden to enter the cemetery itself, but I walked around the enclosing wall as I witnessed a bleached blond with fake tits bigger than her head as she carefully deposited these crappy, cutesy little stuffed animals along the wall of the cemetery so that her husband could get a picture of her in front of a frickin’ sacred resting place with her precious, awful stuffed animals. What the HELL is WRONG with some people? I don’t get it. Apparently the word ‘desecration’ ain’t in her dictionary. I’m pretty sure ‘disrespect’ is missing as well. She tottered along in her heels, looking very lost at several points along her journey, and I have to admit that I was surprised that she didn’t have one of those ‘pocket dogs’ shoved in her purse somewhere. Yes, I’m making a lot of assumptions about her character, but – good GRIEF show a little respect for those who have passed on instead of simply utilizing them as a macabre background for your ‘I’m so cute here in the desert with dead people!’ pictures.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park – Angel Fire, NM

After the Pueblo, I then headed into downtown Taos and had what was certainly the smallest BLT ever, at least in my experience. It was tasty, but nowhere worth the amount of money spent on it. Friends of mine back in ABQ had provided me the contact information for a friend of theirs in Taos that was happy to give me a parking spot for the van that night, but since it was still early in the evening, I decided to continue on to Cimmaron. As I passed near Angel Fire airport, I spotted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, a structure that looked almost like the white prow of a ship, jutting up and out of the top of a high hill. Curious, I decided to check it out.

It’s a very tasteful memorial built to honor Lt. David Westphall, a soldier killed in the Vietnam campaign. His parents chose their Val Verde Ranch in the Moreno Valley for the location of the memorial itself. I had a brief, friendly conversation with a visiting vet that had lived in the area for years, but hadn’t had the time to come pay his respects and check the memorial out. We spoke a little bit about the memorial in DC as well, and I urged him to go if he ever found himself on that side of the country.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial – Angel Fire, NM

Of the memorial, Victor Westphall has stated, “This memorial is for all Vietnam veterans [of both sides]: the living, the dead, the maimed in body and spirit.” It’s a very serene, reflective place.

I stopped briefly in Eagle Nest, a quiet little town surrounding the edges of Eagle Nest Lake. It was the biggest body of water I’d seen in over a month. I paused at the pass into Cimmaron Canyon State Park on rt 64, smiling up at the outline of the full moon between the mountain peaks before taking a moment to enjoy the scenery around me. I then headed on into the park itself, following the twisty winding road through the mountains. There are multiple state operated pay campgrounds along rt 64 as well as pull off areas near the streams that run through the area. Several campgrounds feature overnight parking in various scenic places along the road. One place in particular had these sheer, choppy cliffs that went straight up near the edge of the water. I puttered around there, enjoying the feel of the place before getting back on track and jetting out to Cimmaron itself.
Cimmaron, New Mexico – ‘Where the West is Still Wild’, is a small town in the middle of nowhere. My sole purpose in running through this burgh was to check out the St. James Hotel, a building with a particularly violent history; approximately 26 murders have taken place within its walls. Many legends of the Wild West have stayed at the Lambert Inn/St. James Hotel – Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid, to name a few. The hotel itself has been investigated by many different paranormal groups. Me – I wanted to check out room 18, which is said to house the ghost of a very angry Thomas James Wright.

Room 18 – St. James Hotel – Cimarron, NM

I went up to the front desk and asked if I could just stand outside room 18. The gal behind the counter was very friendly and said, “Sure.” so I went on up. The door is indeed padlocked, but no sounds emanated from the room. The door itself didn’t rattle, and nothing really paranormal happened. Well, nothing outward, anyway. Nothing that could be captured in a way that was proveable. Something/one is definitely in that room, and its definitely peevish, though. The hotel is fairly active, but not in a menacing way that I could feel.

I walked around a little more before finally heading back out to the van and ‘doing what I do’ to help lost souls make it to the next part of their own journey. Shortly thereafter, I rolled into Cimarron Inn & RV Park and bedded down for the night.

St James Hotel – lobby

Next morning, I was up at 7 and on the road by 7:30, heading up north in my search for Dawson Cemetery. The Dawson coal mine opened in 1901, presenting the opportunity for a railroad to be constructed from Dawson to Tucumcari. The town of Dawson developed quickly over the next twelve years before an explosion in the mine killed 263 minors and two rescuers. A couple of months later, another explosion killed 120 men. In 1950, the Phelps Dodge company sold off the entire town to be moved to another location. Today, the main feature in Dawson is the cemetery that is the final resting place for the men that died in two of American coal mining’s biggest disasters.

I never did find the cemetery, unfortunately. As I drove through Raton, I said a silent prayer and gave thanks for all the men who died such horrible deaths.

Cave of the Winds – Colorado Springs, CO

From Raton, I headed up to Colorado Springs; full of glee when I was finally able to glimpse the large peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Once in Colorado Springs, I headed over to the Cave of the Winds. Although not altogether impressive since I’d just been to Carlsbad recently, it’s an ok little cave system. The Cave of the Winds visitor’s center, however, does rest at the edge of Williams Canyon, which I found myself very much wanting to hike through. There’s a little red dirt trail that snakes along the bottom of the canyon, and along the deck of the visitor’s center, there are magnifying posts with which you can attempt to look at varying bits of scenery.

Williams Canyon – Silver Spring, CO – view from Cave of the Winds

There are two attractions at the Cave of the Winds center that appeal to me – the first is the Wind Walker Challenge Course, a large, three story, iron obstacle course that has a couple points that go well out and over Williams Canyon – a 600ft drop. They give you a full body harness that you clip to sliding points slotted within the iron bars so you don’t accidentally kill yourself. The second is this mysterious thing called a BAT-a-Pult, which is apparently a zip-line that rushes you through the canyon itself. I’m very keen to try that particular thing.

After the cave, I just headed on up to Denver, where I met my good friends S. John and Sandra, who are currently providing me with crashspace as I stay in their fair city. Then, I watched The Avengers. It was a good cap to the weekend.

New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

Old Town Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico seems to be a popular filming destination. Especially Albuquerque, with an average of 278 sunny days. Albuquerque has such a variety of houses and locations that it’s been used many times as completely different places in the country, if not the world. High Desert, they call it. Lots of sand without any water, I call it. Being from the east coast, I’m used to lots of sand leading to an ocean. It’s pretty unsettling that it just goes on and on, until it runs into another patch of pseudo sand/dirt stretch covered with scrub brush and cactus as far as the eye can see. It’s a pretty dramatic change from northern Texas into New Mexico. All of a sudden, it seems, there are mesas everywhere, and the plants have gone from brilliant green to an almost greyish blue. I had the good fortune of arriving towards the end of March, so while I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to witness the changing of the seasons in a place that I’d never been before. Desert blooms are particularly beautiful, but the sun is BRUTAL. Although it’s a ‘dry heat’, and the shade is fantastic when you can find it, the sun beats down on your brain, slowly trying to drive you to your knees.

Nature’s tumbleweed storage area

Being orginially from around the Northern Virginia / D.C. area, I’m used to high humidity. At least in dry heat, shade helps. With high humidity, you’re just sticky, hot and miserable, no matter what you do – so the High Desert gets my vote for awesome coolness in the shade.

While I’ve been here, I’ve had the considerable need to purchase two beige floppy hats, which I now refer to as my ‘desert explorer hats’. If I find myself out for any length of time beneath the garish, hateful orb of eternal heat, I have to wear one; otherwise, I find myself sunburned and headachey. Dehydration is always just around the corner, it seems – no matter how much water I drink. And this is all in April – during the spring months. It’s good that I’m heading up to Colorado before full summer swings in and punches my clock entirely.

Sunset in downtown Albuquerque, NM

Should you someday find yourself in Albuquerque and are at all interested in learning about its history and oddities, you’ll definitely want to take a trolley ride with the guys at ABQ Trolley Co. The inspired creation of locals Jesse Herron and Michael M. Silva, Jr., the trolley points out an almost startling collection of sights and facts about Albuquerque. I ended up taking the trolley with my dad and his partner, who have been living in ABQ for 11 years, and they found themselves very pleased to learn about a great many things that they didn’t know existed in this fair city. The guys are really informative and friendly, and the trolley itself is well maintained and comfortable to sit on for an extended period of time.

Sandia Peak – the view from the top

Another ‘must see/do’, is the Sandia Peak Ski & Tramway (PICS). Celebrating it’s 44th anniversary this month, the Tramway is located at the eastern edge of Albuquerque, in the Sandia foothills. The tram takes you approximately 4,000ft vertically in 15 minutes and the ride is smooth and completely spectacular. Albuquerque’s tramway features the world’s third longest single span. Once deposited on the observation deck on the Sandia peak at 10,378ft, you can then either choose to dine at the High Finance restaurant off to the left, or you can wander around to check out the ski facilities that are open in the snowier times of the year. There’s a wraparound deck facing Albuquerque so you can get a good look at the city sprawl below. The panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys is breathtaking.

Cottonwood Madonna – Old Town Albuquerque, NM

Old Town Albuquerque itself is a great deal of fun to wander through. There are a number of shops and cafes, and many of the buildings still look the way they did in the 1800’s, except for those buildings changed during the re-puebloization of the 1960’s. The town square has a large, decorative gazebo that children run through and around when events aren’t taking place within. Just off the main square to the right, you can sign up for the Ghost Tours of Old Town. For about two hours, you’ll be guided around Old Town, from location to location as various creepy and interesting stories are divulged. It’s a good time, and definitely worth the money. On the trolley tour, we’d been made aware of the La Capilla de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, a very small and charming chapel just a short walk from the main square. After the trolley tour, we’d gone over to see if we could take a look at it, but it was unfortunately closed for repairs. The nice thing about the Ghost Tours of Old Town? They take you inside the chapel at night.

Just outside La Capilla de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

There are many stores of a weeping woman in black lace that sits in the chapel from time to time, when she’s not roaming the surrounding area. When we went inside, I felt a very strong presence, then saw the outline of a woman sitting across from me, shortly after I was overcome with emotion and tears myself. I heard a voice explaining that she wept for the world (the phrase Lagrimas del Mundo was very strong) – that it was her duty to do so, and that her tears helped to heal the world. Although the sadness was overwhelming initially, as I sat and listened to the Ghost Tour guides explain the visions that people had seen in here and the experiences they’d had, I felt a sense of peace. That things were right.

At this point, I’ve been in New Mexico for a little over a month. It’s been wonderful, hot, dusty, adventurous and very educational. I’ve really enjoyed the time that I’ve gotten to spend with my dad and his partner – we don’t really get to see each other too often, and when we do it’s usually brief because they’re on their way to their own adventure. I’m hoping to swing back through in October/November to do Chaco Canyon again, to see all the things I missed on the last trip – which is QUITE a lot.
I’ll be writing and posting a separate trip about last weekend’s trip to Chaco in the future. 🙂